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Bluecoat’s Lives of Artists Season continues with exhibitions by Michelle Williams Gamaker and Dahong Hongxuan Wang

Michelle Williams Gamaker and Dahong Hongxuan Wang, will bring their exhibitions Our Mountains Are Painted on Glass and Role Model to the Bluecoat, Liverpool in May 2024.

The exhibitions are a continuation of the Bluecoat’s current season of programming, The Lives of Artists, which asks audiences what might be uncovered about ourselves when we listen to the testimony, histories, and stories of artists reflecting on their lives. 

Through her practice British-Sri Lankan artist Michelle Williams Gamaker explores race, identity, her love of cinema and the power of storytelling.

Known for her inventive filmmaking and screenwriting, Williams Gamaker draws on and celebrates the classic movies she watched growing up, and takes inspiration from early Hollywood and British cinema. The exhibition at Bluecoat will screen Thieves, a fantasy adventure retelling of The Thief of Bagdad. The Thief of Bagdad, a silent, black and white film from 1924, was remade in colour in 1940.

Williams Gamaker reimagines the marginalised characters as claiming leading roles in her film, played in the originals by Chinese-American actor Anna May Wong and Indian-born American actor Sabu. Now, both characters reclaim the story as their own, challenging the racial discrimination of the film industry. Told as a movie within a movie, in Thieves Anna May Wong is found on set by Sabu, but there is something wrong: she is in black-and-white while everything else is in Technicolor, and both find themselves trapped in their screen-images. Both must navigate the structural violence on set (in this case, the casting of white actors to replace actors of colour) by joining forces to overthrow the set and those in charge.

Thieves is a vivid retelling, blending classic analogue methods with contemporary practices. The artist celebrates the best of past and present filmmaking and shares her love of cinema through the stories she unpicks.

Our Mountains Are Painted on Glass was co-commissioned by South London Gallery and Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Dahong Hongxuan Wang, an artist who has played the role of Anna May Wong in several of Williams Gamaker’s works, will exhibit her new film Role Models. Dahong Hongxuan Wang’s new film follows the path of Anna May Wong who travelled to her ancestral hometown of Taishan, Guangdong. Having been rejected by Hollywood in favour of actors in the racist make-up technique of yellowface, Wong set off on a tour of China. Reflecting back on her time in China and America, Dahong Hongxuan Wang said “It’s a pretty sad situation to be rejected by the Chinese because I’m ‘too American’ and by American producers because they want other races to act Chinese parts.” Through her vocal and symbolic acts of resistance and critique, Dahong Hongxuan Wang finds a role model in Anna May Wong, “a modern, Chinese, young female performer has finally found her lifetime role model”. Role Models will feature a director-like Anna (played by Dahong Hongxuan Wang), who ultimately succeeds in dominating the whole documentary process.  

Writer Jennifer Lee Tsai will perform in response to our The Lives of Artists season as our featured writer. Her work often looks to the second generation immigrant experience, and explores themes of ancestral trauma, loss and belonging. Tsai draws on her own life, the lives of her family and the lives of others around her to create beautiful and powerful work that helps us understand each other and resonate with our own sense of self. 

Williams Gamaker and Dahong Hongxuan Wang will conclude The Lives of Artists season at the Bluecoat, following Babak Ganjei’Thanks for Having Me, and Joshua Clague’s and it feels like I just got home. 

A full list of exhibitions and timings can be found below:

Exhibition preview: Thursday 2nd May, 6-8pm.
Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains are Painted on Glass and Dahong Hongxuan Wang: Role Model 

Michelle Williams Gamaker: Our Mountains are Painted on GlassFriday 3rd May – Sunday 30th June

Dahong Hongxuan Wang: Role ModelFriday 3rd May – Sunday 30th June